Sunday, July 10, 2016

Hitting The Road To Jack Island

Jack Island State Preserve is one of those quiet beautiful gems, a spit of land in the Intracoastal/Indian River Lagoon off A1A in north Fort Pierce beach.

You reach a 4 1/2 mile loop by this concrete bridge and follow a service trail around the perimeter of the island. There's access points to the water all around.

And the upclose views of the mangroves are gorgeous.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Vero Beach's Secret Ecotourism Paradise

Cycling north and south of Vero Beach along A1A is one of Florida's nicest pedaling experiences.

And it's just one of many outdoor ecotourism options available in the Vero Beach/Indian River County area, which can boast of hosting the nation's first wildlife refuge to worldclass sea turtle nesting beaches to osprey breeding grounds further inland.

That's not even considering the two gorgeous Atlantic Ocean inlets 15 miles north and south of Vero Beach, the kayaking and boat rides along the Indian River Lagoon and the fishing in freshwater lakes and offshore.

I take a look at why the marketing and promotion of Vero's ecotourism gifts are so poor.

Sunday Morning: Day of the Bicycle

Early Sunday, around 7 a.m. or so, the bicycles take over the roads of Florida.

The motorists in the Sunshine State are not the most friendly around the country.

But when daybreak hits on Sundays, bicyclists rule because the motorists are still snoring in bed.

I pedaled to the Sebastian Inlet and met this fella on the bridge spanning the inlet.

He was a speedy guy, and I drafted for about three miles.

I dropped off when I realized I couldn't go fast enough to pull him back south to Vero Beach.

But I sure enjoyed Sunday -- when the bicyclist rule the roads of Florida.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Riding The Pugsley To Pelican Island Refuge

For the life of me, I can't understand why more people don't come to this place.

Florida has been paved over, so here's an inspiring peak back at this state before the developers and subdivision builders got their paws on the land. So, one of my favorite bike rides is to hop on the Surly Pugsley fattie single-speeder and pedal from Vero to Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, America's first wildlife refuge created by President Teddy Roosevelt.

To get there, hook up with the Jungle Trail. It's an old dirt road that used to be a main artery for the citrus industry transporters to move their oranges and grapefruits along the Indian River.

Now the crabs like hanging out here.

If you're wondering why the Jungle Trail surface is unusually smooth for a dirt road, I found out this morning when I saw this thing coming at me.

The Pelican Island refuge draws about 110,000 people a year -- a mere one-eighth of the 880,000 visitors a year at the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge across the state on Sanibel Island.

It's sad that the local chamber and elected officials don't do more to toot the horn of the amazing Pelican Island haven.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Keep on Pedaling, Dad

Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Racetrack Discovery

It was beastly hot on the concrete track.

Think Vegas heat combined with Florida humidity and that was the fiery sizzling combo when we discovered a racetrack on a Savannah island across the river from Savannah's touristy River Street.

It was mid-Monday morning in Savannah where Debbie and I crossed the Talmadge Memorial Bridge even though technically bicycles are not allowed. But Debbie saw a bicyclist come off the bridge ramp into downtown Savannah so off we pedaled to cross the span.

I know lots of routes across the country but Savannah is a blind spot. So I googled two routes, including a 37-miler that started in downtown Savannah and crossed the bridge. This is a view of Savannah from the downtown side of the Savannah River as we biked toward the center of the span.

But when we crossed the bridge, I saw Hutchinson Island and its quiet roads, the convention center and a Westin hotel. So, we took the first ramp off the bridge to explore.

I love that about bicycling -- ad-libbing a ride and letting the ride take you for the voyage. Debbie was game and we biked a few miles on the island, passed the Westin and then entered the three-mile race course when decided to explore.

The heat radiating off the concrete, no grandstands in sight and not a soul around, the raceway had a post-apocalypse feel. But a flowery aroma that smelled like gardenias wafted around the track as we pedaled the loop.

A few motorists did drop in to speed a section of the course because half of it was closed (but we bicyclists simply passed the barrier to ride a complete loop).

I used a point-a-shoot Nikon Coolpix for this photo, which caught Debbie and the bridge in the backdrop.

These photos give you a sense of what it's like to bike on the racetrack.

Since Debbie is from Indy, I got a kick out of her re-enacting the Indy 500 win with the victorious bottle of milk pose.

The heat got to us. So we took a break at the Westin and then hopped a free ferry for a quick trip back over to downtown Savannah and River Street.

Man, the furnace blast heat was getting to us as we pedaled around some of the 22 town squares that Savannah is famous for.

In the few days there, I didn't see too much bicycle infrastructure in Savannah. But they must be doing something right since the city received a bronze level bicycle-friendly designation from the League of American Bicyclists.

And they do have something called the Savannah Bicycle Campaign.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Mets Relief Pitcher Brings Back Childhood Memories

(Blog poster's note: Occasionally this blog will post a non-bicycle item. It won't happen a lot.) 

The last time I saw Ron Taylor and he gave me an autograph was 1970 when my mom took my two sisters and myself to one of those pre-Wal-Mart all-purpose stores called Shopper’s Paradise in Spring Valley outside New York City.

I was a little kid who loved baseball and it was the year after the wiry, right-hand-throwing Taylor and the rest of the New York Mets shocked the world and went from the Bad News Bears of the National League to World Series champs overnight in 1969.

There was no bigger thrill to be a schoolkid in the City area in 1969 when the Amazing Mets stormed past the Chicago Cubs to win the Eastern Division, defeat the Hank Aaron-led Atlanta Braves for the National League pennant and upset the favorite Baltimore Orioles to win a World Series.

The fact that a sad-sack club such as the Mets in the Queens could win a World Series just like the all-powerful New York Yankees in the Bronx planted the seed of “anything-is-possible” attitude in me that is still with me to this day. It also cemented my root-for-the-underdog mentality that still shapes a lot of my thinking.

Taylor was hardly one of the Mets’ big stars that included young guns such as future Hall-of-Famers Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and fellow pitching stars like Jerry Koosman and Tug McGraw.

But Taylor was among a handful of steady veterans who added stability to the club. And he also had a wicked sinkerball that he used when he helped the St. Louis Cardinals to win the 1964 World Series by defeating the Yankees.

All those childhood 1969 Miracle Mets memories came flooding back late Friday afternoon when I saw the 78-year-old white-haired Taylor and his family sitting in the left section in the Vero Beach Museum of Art theater to watch a short documentary on Taylor’s transition from Major League Baseball pitcher to a medical doctor after he visited Vietnam on a USO tour after the Mets won the World Series.

Taylor’s two sons, Drew and Matthew, created the short film entitled, “Ron Taylor: Dr. Baseball.”

It was among several dozen movies in the inaugural Vero Beach Wine & Film Festival Thursday to Sunday.

During the Q & A after the Dr. Baseball film, Taylor and his two sons took questions. They fielded a few, and were about to wrap things up when I raised my hand though I didn’t have a question. It was just a corny comment to Taylor to thank him and his fellow Miracle Mets for the 1969 season that set the tone for my youth and for the autograph he gave to me one year after in 1970.

Could you imagine that I still recall 46 years later what I told him when I got his autograph at Shopper’s Paradise off Route 59 in suburban New York City?

I told him, “You pitched great.”

And he answered, “Thank you.”

Taylor was just as humble and polite 46 years later when I told him the autograph story and he again signed his name for me -- this time in my reporter’s notebook. He wrote, “Ron Taylor Best Wishes!”

The film is only 17 minutes, but it’s jammed with great interviews from Taylor’s former teammates like Tim McCarver and Bob Gibson. Taylor’s two sons crafted a lovely documentary chronicling their dad’s move from Canada to Cleveland to sign with the Indians before he was traded to the Cardinals and Mets. Taylor pitched in the Big Leagues from 1962-72.

The flow of baseball photos transitioned to scenes of Vietnam when Taylor saw what the unpopular war was all about. After 11 years in the Majors, Taylor quit baseball and entered medical school at age 35.

Taylor became a physician and ultimately served as the team doctor for the Toronto Blue Jays in his native Canada. There are some funny quips from former Blue Jays players like former slugger George Bell who got a kick out of “Doc” not only treating their injuries but also throwing sinker balls, curveballs and slider pitches during batting practice.

Taylor's two sons spiced the film with terrific quips from their soft-spoken yet quick-witted father, who cracked some funny jokes during the documentary.

After getting all mushy with Taylor after the film, I sauntered to son Drew to tell him how much I enjoyed the documentary on his dad.

The good news is that Drew and brother Matthew are following up Dr. Baseball with another documentary. It's about the impact of the Mets, NFL New York Jets and NBA New York Knicks all winning championships in 1969-70 on the psyche of New York City.

So who knows, maybe the Taylors will be back to Vero Beach with another great documentary one day.